The agreement was reached with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and the Trades Union Congress. The Government wants to introduce legislation in the autumn but that depends on agreement within the EU over the stalled Agency Workers Directive.
The UK deal would give agency workers who have been on the job for 12 weeks the same entitlements as permanent staff regarding pay, holidays, overtime, breaks, rest periods, night work and duration of working time, a Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR) spokeswoman said.
But they would not be entitled to sick pay, maternity or pension benefits that are over and above statutory rights.
CBI deputy director-general John Cridland said: “Half of agency assignments will be unaffected as they last less than 12 weeks.”
“There has been a major risk of damaging legislation coming from Brussels and the CBI has judged that the Government’s proposals represent the least worst outcome available for British business.”
But the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association (HVCA) said the deal had the “whiff of a compromise” and appeared to be aimed at appeasing the French presidency of the EU, which starts in July.
“If there is to be legislation in this area, it needs to be based on a proper economic argument, which reflects this sector’s underlying need for flexibility in workforce provision,” said Peter Rimmer, the HVCA’s head of employment affairs. “Legislating now and for the wrong reasons is not likely to result in a sensible or workable approach.”
Unite, Britain’s biggest union, said the deal was a “landmark” in workers’ rights. “The Government has listened, acted and paved the way to equal treatment in the workplace,” said joint general-secretary Tony Woodley. “It is now much harder for employers to treat agency workers as dispensable labour, hired and fired at will.”
The Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) also supported the proposed agreement. General secretary Alan Ritchie said: “This decision by the Government is long overdue and it will make a huge difference to hundreds of thousands of agency workers who have faced grossly unfair discrimination at work.”
But UCATT added that the major issue of exploitation in construction was caused by workers being forced to work “bogusly self-employed” under the Construction Industry Scheme.
“These workers do not have employment rights, can be sacked at a moment’s notice, do not receive holiday pay or sick pay and do not have pensions. In order to stamp out these practices, [ministers] need to extend the Gangmasters Act to construction and abolish the Construction Industry Scheme,” Mr Ritchie said.
DBERR said British officials would try to reach an agreement with EU partners over the Agency Workers Directive at the next meeting of the European Council in June. “The timetable for implementation in the UK will only be set once the directive is agreed,” a spokeswoman said.